The earliest and still one of the best diagnoses of the new literary dispensation that emerged in the 1930s may be found in George Orwell's 1935 review of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and, at greater length, in his extensive essay on Miller and the significance of his work, "Inside the Whale." The review is largely subsumed into the later essay, so I will not discuss its contents in detail. Orwell, however, opens his remarks on Miller with a lurid and extreme image evoking an uncanny automatic mechanism that functions even after death. He is speaking of literature and its ability to face up to or avert its eyes from the perilous condition of the present: "Modern man is rather like a bisected wasp which goes on sucking jam and pretends that the loss of its abdomen does not matter. It is some perception of this fact which brings books like Tropic of Cancer (for there will probably be more and more of them as time goes on) into being."
In 1935 this characterization of "modern man" might have seemed hyperbolic and shrill; by the time "Inside the Whale" appeared in 1940,
with Nazi victories blanketing the map of Europe and British capitulation to the mad Charlie Chaplin emperor in Berlin a very real possibility, it was hard not to concur with Orwell's pessimism, if not his precise diagnosis. In forty pages of brilliant, undeceived examination of the main lines of twentieth-century British writing, Orwell diagnoses the condition of literature in England on the brink of a total war for survival. He reveals the collective psychology underlying the epochal shifts in authorial stance and popular taste from the Georgian decades of A. E. Housman and H. G. Wells, to the modernist revolt of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, to the "Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing" he sensed in the leftish boosterism of W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, and company—all set against a background of political, military, and human horrors: the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to divide up Poland between Germany and Russia, the mechanized drone of Stuka dive bombers and Panzer brigades, and the stifled cries of the concentration camps.
The historical panorama that Orwell sets out with such unforgiving concision serves to foreground the peculiar homelessness of Miller's work in this history. Miller, quite simply, doesn't fit in the big picture of his times. Out of frank disbelief, Miller avoids the progressive commitments of the Edwardians and the communist enthusiasms of the Auden generation; neither, however, does he exhibit, modernist-style, any faith in the power of carefully crafted, difficult art to redeem the squalid realities of his subproletarian existence. If these large-scale tendencies of attitude and taste had once been, for better or worse, conditions of possibility for an enduring English literature, Miller, in contrast, heralds an altogether different future in which literature as such is endangered by a world much too much with it. Miller's work, Orwell writes, "is a demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new shape." For Orwell, Miller is more than just a writer; he is the unlaureled proseist of middle-class unemployment, the pulverization of professional society in train from the late 1920s on—the collective désoeuvrement of the middle strata, not just in the sense that the heirs of the Edwardian bourgeoisie were without jobs, but also, more fundamentally, that they were bereft of vocation, of any calling in which they might sincerely believe. Miller writes neither to praise collective idleness nor to ally himself rhetorically with the gravediggers of a dying culture, signing on to a future utopia of labor and endeavoring to bury it. It is in this "neither-nor" that Orwell detects a new tone, and identifies in it the endgame of modern individualistic cul-
ture, with the late modernist torso gyrating mechanically while the head no longer serves to guide it and no limb propels it on.
Unfortunately, few critics have developed in a systematic manner Orwell's essayistically formulated insight. Among contemporary scholars of modernist culture, the architectural historian Charles Jencks has made a compelling case for employing the notion of late modernism in critical discussions of twentieth-century architecture and, by extension, the other arts as well. Jencks designates as "late modernist" the persistence in architectural practice of an avant-garde moralism, utopianism, and purist style after the classic period of International-style architectural modernism (1920-1960). "Late modern" architecture, Jencks argues, coexists with the postmodernism that emerges in the 1960s. By comparison to either modernism or late modernism, postmodernist architecture is pluralist and populist in its ethos, intentionally addressing different "taste cultures" from the general public to elite, knowledgeable constituencies, capable of appreciating inside jokes and learned references. Postmodernist architects are unashamedly historicist in their use of ornament and ironic allusion to earlier buildings, which may be freely drawn from for figural and structural ideas. More generally, post-modern architecture abandons the central concern of modern architects with the autonomy of form and its exhaustive display of function. The modernist supercategory "form-equals-function" yields to a diversified concern with meaning, sensuality, and context; symbolism, allegory, and narrative return as major artistic resources. In contrast, late modernism represents a kind of exasperated heightening of the logic of modernist architecture itself. Architectural late modernism is, Jencks writes, "pragmatic and technocratic in its social ideology and from about 1960 takes many of the stylistic ideas and values of modernism to an extreme in order to resuscitate a dull (or clichéd) language" (15).
Two aspects of Jencks's argument are useful for my considerations of late modernist literature. First, he emphasizes the overlap and coexistence of late modernism and postmodernism. These are not successive stages but rather alternative responses to the legacy of modernism and its possible continuation. Second, he recognizes that these terms cannot be defined simply as a matter of style, for they also embrace aspects of social ideology and artistic ethos as well. As Jencks remarks, "To call a late modernist a postmodernist is tantamount to calling a Protestant a Catholic because they both practice a Christian religion" (16). And if the Thirty-Something Year War that followed on the schisming of modernism has left the artistic field razed and the scattered troops looting
whatever they came across in their retreat, Jencks's point still stands. The choices for artists working in the wake of modernism had real stakes, and these stakes have not been sufficiently recognized in the rush to postmodernism: art's relation to the past, its address to a public, and its stance toward the society and politics of the day. On this, I cannot express my agreement with Jencks too strongly. The extension of Jencks's arguments to literature, however, is limited by his specific concentration on architecture, which has a distinct stylistic and institutional history. Architectural modernism had its first heave with the socialist urbanism of the late 1920s and 1930s and its second wind with the urban development after World War II, whereas literary modernism peaked much earlier and, free of any strong ties to economic and political institutions, much more feebly. Hence, one should expect that "late modernist" literature would have an analogously different historical shape than that of architecture. In contrast with different building forms, differences in literary architectonics have few direct social effects; hence, questions of ethos and social vision have a less direct translation into formal considerations than in architecture. Moreover, no "postmodernist" complement existed at the moment that late modernist literature made its first appearance-as I am arguing, around 1926. Instead, this emergent literature appears in tandem with a still developing corpus of high modernism. James Joyce's Finnegans Wake , Virginia Woolf's The Waves and Between the Acts , Ezra Pound's Cantos , Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza , and other monuments of high modernism share the field with a new generation of late modernist works.
Fredric Jameson, in his celebrated writings on postmodernism, acknowledges the need for an intermediary concept to characterize the cultural products of the "transition" between modernism and postmodernism, although he leaves the task of theorizing this interim largely to others. Somewhat grudgingly, he admits that "we should probably . . . make some place . . . for what Charles Jencks has come to call 'late modernism'—the last survivals of a properly modernist view of art and the world after the great political and economic break of the Depression, where, under Stalinism or the Popular Front, Hitler or the New Deal, some new conception of social realism achieves the status of momentary cultural dominance by way of collective anxiety and world war." As exemplary "late modernists" in literature, Jameson mentions Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky, "who had the misfortune to span two eras and the luck to find a time capsule of isolation or exile in which to spin out unseasonable
forms" (305). The concept of late modernism was, indeed, already implicit in Jameson's earlier study of Wyndham Lewis, whose "prophetic assault on the very conventions of the emergent modernism" presaged the "contemporary poststructuralist aesthetic, which signals the dissolution of the modernist paradigm." He goes on to note that "Lewis cannot be fully assimilated to the contemporary textual aesthetic without anachronism" (or as Jameson might now write, it would be ahistor-ical to call Lewis "postmodernist"). Nevertheless, Lewis's out-of-phase relation to modernism, his anachronistic "kinship with us" (20), constitutes a central focus of Jameson's study. In my own account as well, Lewis—as cultural critic, painter, and novelist—plays a crucial role in the late modernist breakup and reconfiguration of earlier "high" modernism.
Examining modern and postmodern modes of irony in Horizons of Assent , Alan Wilde offers a more elaborated description of late modernism than Jameson's. His conception has two major elements. First, it represents a welcome attempt to break down the overly schematic opposition of modernism and postmodernism in literary history. To "do justice" to the "jagged course of literary history," Wilde feels the need for a third term: "Late modernism interposes a space of transition, a necessary bridge between more spacious and self-conscious experimental movements [i.e., modernism and postmodernism—T.M.]." Second, through close reading of works by Christopher Isherwood and Ivy Compton-Burnett, Wilde contrasts the qualifies of irony that characterize modernist and late modernist fiction. Modernist irony, Wilde argues, helps bring to life a richly inclusive and interconnected fictional world as a symbolic compensation for the chaos and impoverishment of modern life. The modernist work registers these modern social realities deeply even in its negative relation to them; its formal and stylistic difficulties testify to the strains suffered in keeping the world at bay. In contrast, late modernist irony engages with social realities less profoundly and offers no embracing vision in which the contradictions of modern life would be resolved. The late modernist text, no doubt, turns to the reader a more reserved and diplomatic face than that of the fractious modernist monster. But monsters also have their poignance, and sweetness and clarity are dearly bought: high modernism's "generosity and breadth—its desire to restore significance to a broken world" (119)—are abandoned in the late modernist work as so much useless baggage.
In his study Postmodernist Fiction , Brian McHale makes an analogous attempt to find a place for works that are caught in the no-man's-
land between the camps of modernist and postmodernist fiction. Like Wilde, he seeks both to account for historical change and transition in the modes of writing and to identify distinct stylistic and formal characteristics of these transitional works. He distinguishes modernist and postmodernist fictions in terms of their overall "set" toward reality. Modernist fiction, McHale suggests, is predominantly "epistemological" in nature: it seeks, despite the confusing webs of psychic, perceptual, and social facts, to disclose a coherent, knowable world. Postmodernist fiction, in contrast, functions differently. Relinquishing the modernist quest to know "the" world, it invents possible worlds; post-modernist fiction is, in McHale's terms, ontological , world-making, rather than world-disclosing. Between these two possibilities, McHale posits a third mode, which unsettles the opposition between the epistemological and ontological dominants. He identifies this possibility, notably, with Samuel Beckett's post-World War II trilogy (as well as Alain Robbe-Grillet's nouveau roman ): "Here, we might say, modernist poetics begins to hemorrhage , to leak away—though not fatally, since it is still (barely) possible to recuperate these internal contradictions by invoking the model of the 'unreliable narrator,' thus stabilizing the projected world and reasserting the epistemological dominant of the text." Such works, which McHale designates "limit-modernist" texts, are marked precisely by their oscillation between the dominant features of modernist and postmodernist fiction.
All three critics make important contributions to formulating a poetics of late modernism. Jameson's imperative to historicize the moments of literary change; Wilde's choice of the 1930s as the point of departure for late modernism; and McHale's excellent description of the formal workings of late modernist texts have strongly influenced the model I develop. Yet for each, late modernism amounts to little more than a peripheral issue, a bit of detail work on the capacious but drafty house of fiction built by Modernism, Postmodernism, and Co.
The "unseasonable forms" spun out by late modernist writers, however, signify more than just patchwork in the otherwise unbroken facade of literary history. Untimely phenomena like late modernist fiction represent breaking points, points of nonsynchronism, in the broad narrative of twentieth-century cultural history. They embody the force of the exception within what might be called "the negative invariance of history," its tendency to conserve institutions and processes in the midst of historical change. Accordingly, the works of late modernist literature should not be viewed simply as cultural curiosities salvaged from time,
aesthetic souvenirs that exert their unsettling fascination by reviving an already moribund modernism. Rather, they mark the lines of right artists took where an obstacle, the oft-mentioned "impasse" of modernism, interrupted progress on established paths. Facing an unexpected stop, late modernists took a detour into the political regions that high modernism had managed to view from the distance of a closed car, as part of a moving panorama of forms and colors. The cultural products of this period both are and are not "of the moment." Precisely in their unfimeliness, their lack of symmetry and formal balance, they retain the power to transport their readers and critics "out of bounds"—to an "elsewhere" of writing from which the period can be surveyed, from which its legitimacy as a whole might be called into question.
Late modernist writing was not particularly successful in either critical or commercial terms, and each work tended toward formal singularity, as if the author had hit a dead end and had to begin again. In content, too, these works reflected a closure of the horizon of the future: they are permeated with a foreboding of decline and fall, of radical contingency and absurd death. Thus John Hawkes, in his statement for a 1962 forum, "Fiction Today," characterized Djuna Barnes as an exemplar for the contemporary writer of "experimental fiction," a path-breaker whose work bears signs of her passage through the funereal spaces of modernism's demise:
Like the poet, the experimental fiction writer . . . enters his created world . . . with something more than confidence and something less than concern over the presence of worms in the mouth. Like the poem, the experimental fiction is an exclamation of psychic materials which come to the writer all readily distorted, prefigured in that nightly inner schism between the rational and the absurd. And the relationship between the sprightly destructive poem and the experimental novel is not an alliance but merely the sharing of a birthmark: they come from the same place and are equally disfigured from the start.
Late modernists like Barnes, Hawkes suggests, carry the signs of death on their faces, the disfigured countenances they show to their post-modern successors. Paradoxically, however, these very signs of disfigu-ration charge their work with its contemporaneity, its ability to speak to the writers of the present day.
The backward-turned glance by which one may read and interpret such funereal signs is what Walter Benjamin described in his Trauer-spiel and Baudelaire studies as an "allegorical optic." The allegorical optic seeks its truth in the mortified ruin of the work (or here, in the
undoing of a whole literary movement and aesthetic). It is a critical gaze that shatters the unity of the object at hand into fragments: "In the field of allegorical intuition the image is a fragment, a rune. Its beauty as a symbol evaporates when the light of divine learning falls upon it. The false appearance of totality is extinguished. For the eidos disappears, the simile ceases to exist, and the cosmos it contained shrivels up. The dry rebuses which remain contain an insight, which is still available to the confused investigator." Yet this optic, which I apply to the works of late modernism, seeing in them splinter-products of a shattered "classic" modernism, replicates the late modernist's already belated relation to high modernism as ruin. Late modernist writers were divested, by political and economic forces, of the cultural "cosmos"—the modernist "myth," in its most encompassing sense—in which the singular works of high modernism seemed components of an aesthetically transfigured world. In the empty spaces left by high modernism's dissolution, late modernists reassembled fragments into disfigured likenesses of modernist masterpieces: the unlovely allegories of a world's end.
In such works the vectors of despair and utopia, the compulsion to decline and the impulse to renewal, are not just related; they are practically indistinguishable. As Benjamin writes, "This is the essence of melancholy immersion: that its ultimate objects, in which it believes it can most fully secure for itself that which is vile, turn into allegories, and that these allegories fill out and deny the void in which they are represented, just as, ultimately, the intention does not faithfully rest in the contemplation of bones, but faithlessly leaps forward to the idea of resurrection" (232-233). Sinking themselves faithlessly into a present devoid of future, into a movement grinding to a halt and an aesthetic on the threshold of dissolution, the writers of late modernism prepared themselves, without hope, to pass over to the far side of the end.